Are you missing your commute? Sitting in hours of traffic only to go 20 miles? Standing in inclement weather for your bus? Being packed in the subway like sardines? For the foreseeable future our commute as we know it is a thing of the past. Just think of all of the time that we’ve gained back, the money we’ve saved on gas and work attire. In fact, in the US alone, “eliminating the daily commute has saved workers around 89 million hours each week — equivalent to time savings of more than 44.5 million full workdays since the pandemic began!” (Anne Williams HBR August 2020).
Whether you’re a venture founder, corporate executive, or individual contributor, we’ve all gained one to two hours in our day without our traditional commutes.
This revelation originally had me jumping for joy, however, I didn’t feel like I gained an hour. With the stress of our commute eliminated, are you happier and more productive in your workday? Do you feel emotionally charged with this extra time? I certainly don’t!
Pre-COVID, I had a hybrid work schedule, consisting of a mix of WFH and office time. However, this all went out the window when everyone in my family began working and schooling from home. I never thought I’d say this, but I missed the downtime of driving home from the office, calling my loved ones, or listening to my favorite podcast….alone.
My brain needed this ritual in order to prepare for my duties at home and decompress after the workday. Without that, my days were on repeat, similar to Groundhog Day. I asked myself, how long can I go on like this? I realized, not only did I need to redefine my commute, but I need to redefine my workday. My solution was to recreate my “new” workday, starting with an unconventional “commute” to my kitchen island. I redefined my workday, so I could manage my time more efficiently. The silver lining was the ability to create a schedule that worked for me, instead of against me.
No matter what time I started my workday I found making small adjustments, helped me with my mindset and my overall productivity.
Hit the reset button
I had to say goodbye to checking all of my email inboxes and news before my feet hit the bedroom floor. As hard as this was, I noticed that I was getting sucked into my workday, and even worse, the headlines. I rushed to get into my inbox, even checking it while making breakfast for our girls. I needed to change, and guess what? I found that I’m exponentially a happier person in the morning. This gave me the opportunity to go through our normal morning rituals, that are not only necessary for my children, but for myself.
Goodbye car, hello podcast
Since my commute looked very different, I swapped out my car for my favorite podcast. Instead of listening to the news in my car, I started to listen to a podcast from my favorite chair. I’d nestle comfortably, soaking in the morning sun, and sip my coffee while listening to The Intelligence or Adam Grant. This twenty-minute ritual is a time for me to actually drink my coffee without getting cold, and to simply unplug before I jump into my inbox.
Let’s have lunch
Let’s bring the Italian siesta to the US, shall we? I’ve always felt a little jealous of the siesta, a glorious three-hour lunch break. Thanks for COVID, I’m living my dream. Now, I don’t actually take a three-hour break, but just making thirty minutes for this connection with my family (since we were all a captive audience) was a good way to split up the workday.
Break-up with news alerts
I did it! I snoozed all of my alerts on my phone and laptop. When COVID first happened, I was all over the news and I couldn’t get enough. I would click on every alert, and the end result was being constantly interrupted by bad news all day long. I asked my husband, “it can’t get worse, right?“ Well, after months of this self-inflicted torture, I broke up with my alerts, and it was the best decision ever for my mental health and my work productivity. I actually don’t mind if I’m in the dark about the latest news; ignorance is my bliss.
Bring back the coffee talk!
Raise your hand if you miss the “water cooler” talk at work. Well, the good news is that you can still have a healthy collegial banter via Zoom. I host an optional, bi-weekly morning check-in with some members of our team. This is a time to drink coffee and discuss everything from the quarantine life, cooking bloggers to follow on social media, politics, to COVID updates, dogs, dogs, and more dogs. It’s by no way mandatory, but it’s just a nice time to connect with your team about non-work related topics.
Exercise your “right” brain
Research suggests that the “right” brain is the more imaginative and creative side of the brain, and the “left” brain is the more academic and logical side of the brain. After hours of focusing and using your left brain, give yourself a little brain break. After lunch, I’ll spend 15 minutes at the large jigsaw puzzle (even though this is said to work both parts of the brain) that has overtaken my dining room table. Find an activity to get lost in whether it’s singing, listening to music, laughing, dancing, exercising, meditating, relaxing, drawing, painting, collaging, Play-Doh sculpting, whatever floats your boat. Don’t worry if you’re not very good at it, give yourself free rein to give your right brain some daily TLC.
End your day with a ritual
When you’re working from home, there never really seems to be an end time. Again, I found myself reinventing my “commute” home. Pre-COVID I would usually be running children around to after-school activities, so my workday had a natural end time. During the pandemic, there were no after-school activities or obligations and the days dragged on and on. Now, I end my day with the same ritual, closing my laptop in a momentous fashion, and taking the dog on a family walk. Whether you have a dog or not, find an end-of-day ritual; working out, having a beer, calling loved ones, whatever works best for you.
Self-care is the best care
This is likely the most important takeaway. I found that it was very easy to get lost in the monotony, no matter how predictable my life became. I remember lamenting, “Wow wouldn’t it be great to have a job where I worked from home every day?” Well, now that we are home 24/7, I have to admit the grass isn’t always greener. Ironically, I feel like I don’t have any time for myself. To combat this for everyone at TechNexus, we instituted “Mental Health Fridays” whereby the workday officially ends at 2:30 pm for people to take care of themselves. You can use this time to laugh, cry, do laundry, run, bake, whatever makes you feel good. This extra two hours has been a mental win and allows me and the rest of our team to walk into the weekend with a renewed outlook and sense of happiness.
We’re all exploring uncharted territory together. The traffic gridlock during our commute that we once cursed is now something we might think back on wistfully. Mornings sipping coffee in your kitchen, and not thinking about your desk at work used to be a luxury solely reserved for weekends. Silver linings are sometimes dull when first presented with them, but they tend to brighten in time when you look at them with a new perspective. Productivity and mental health are not unattainable these days. In fact, they both can be kicked into overdrive with a bit of planning and a few tweaks to your typical daily routine.
About the Author: Paula Quinn is Head of People at TechNexus Venture Collaborative since December 2018. Her main focus is employee development, driving key metrics and company OKR’s, talent pipeline development, candidate experience, diversity and inclusion, and overall People Operations. Paula is also the Founder of Coming Up Rosies, a Chicago-based non-profit inspired by her daughter, Rosie, and her dream to make bald kids like her smile. Rosie convinced Paula to leave her 10 year People Operations career at Google to provide the opportunity for bald children to create their own headscarf, neck scarf, or superhero cape to wear with pride. Since 2016, Coming Up Rosies has donated over 1,700 Smile Kits to hospitals and charity organizations around the world.